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Leadership vacuum at DoH

MJ Blancaflor

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Local doctors and scientists at the frontline of the battle against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pounced on the leadership at the Department of Health (DoH) for the agency’s poor handling of coronavirus data and its lack of “clear, cohesive, and transparent” communication campaign to address the surge of virus cases.

A medical expert and special adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19 has expressed disappointment at the DoH in the release of confusing daily figures.

In a tweet posted Saturday, Dr. Tony Leachon noted that the public seeks accountability from the DoH as the agency continues to report COVID-19 infections that include part of its validation backlog which were classified as “late” cases.

“Forgive me, I think the lead agency has lost focus in everything. Risk communication, priorities, data management and execution of all plans,” he wrote in his tweet.

His remarks came after the D0H recorded 607 additional cases on Saturday — raising the nationwide total to 25,392 — higher than the estimated 24,000 cases by mid-June as projected by statisticians from the University of the Philippines.

Leachon lamented the DoH’s “lack of sense of urgency” in managing data which has been a crucial basis of government‘s policies amid the health crisis.

President Rodrigo Duterte is considering three options for the new quarantine classification to be implemented over Metro Manila and Cebu City.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte could retain the general community quarantine (GCQ) classification in both areas, place them in the least strict modified GCQ (MGCQ), or return them to the more strict modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).

“It would be up to the President because we are balancing the economy and enough capacity to provide medical care for critical patients,” he said.

Utter frustration

“I’m frustrated with the lack of sense of urgency of the DoH leadership in data management,” Leachon, however, said.

“Without a clear, cohesive and transparent communication from the DoH, the noise from an overly-stressed out and highly-emotional public, interposed with a varied mixture of political opinions and even potentially-misleading facts, will sadly just drown out the truth,” the physician added.

A group called the Scientists Unite Against COVID-19, which describes itself as a monitor of the government’s response to the pandemic, also urged the DoH to address its case of validation delays and testing backlogs.

The group found out in its analysis that coronavirus laboratory testing had a median turnaround time of three days and only about one-third of results were released within two days of sample receipt. Meanwhile, the group’s analysis also showed that case validation had a median time of three days.

“The significant delay in case confirmation has implications for other crucial public health interventions such as contact tracing and local policy decisions,” the group said.

The group, however, clarified that their analysis was not peer-reviewed.

The department has previously assured the public that it had taken steps to address these issues, such as digitizing its data monitoring system.

“COVID-19 surveillance in the Philippines is hampered by insufficient capacities for laboratory testing and case validation, giving rise to two distinct and related backlogs. The delays brought about by these backlogs carry significant implications for policy and public information,” the group explained.

Deaths decreasing

The DoH has yet to respond to Leachon’s remarks, but the agency reported in a televised briefing on Sunday that COVID-19 fatalities in the Philippines have been decreasing since the end of April based on the actual date of deaths.

DoH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the current case fatality rate in the country stands at 4.24 percent as of 13 June, which was lower than the local figure on 31 May and the global fatality rate of 5.6 percent. The nationwide death toll stands at 1,074 as of 13 June.

Median deaths remain low at nine cases per day, she added.

Dr. John Wong, an epidemiologist and a member of the data analytics technical working group of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Infectious Diseases, said that the DoH’s reporting of fatalities has also improved.

There used to be a 22-day delay between the death of a COVID-19 patient and the DoH’s reporting, but there is only a seven-day delay at the present, he added.

Vergeire owes up

Vergeire reiterated that if a COVID-19 patient dies, the DoH does not automatically include the individual in its official tally. The agency’s Epidemiology Bureau has to validate if the real cause of the person’s death is COVID-19 which takes time.

“The reports of deaths will come from local government units. Once the report reaches our office or the DoH, we need to validate the cause of death if it’s really COVID-19, including other information or details from the patient,” she said.

Vergeire also clarified that the 22 coronavirus-related deaths reported in 13 June did not occur on that day.

“Among the 22 fatalities that we reported yesterday, only four of them died in June… The other patients died in the previous months but were only submitted in our Epidemiology Bureau recently that’s why we only reported it now,” she said.

“Allow us to apologize if you were alarmed over these numbers. As we repeatedly emphasize, these numbers were based on when the death was reported to the public. Not on the day the patients have died,” Vergeire added.

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VFA in eye of storm anew

Hananeel Bordey

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Senate President Vicente Sotto III is certain that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should be reconsidered if the US Congress passes the bill seeking to suspend assistance to Philippine police and military over alleged human rights violations.

“Then we should reconsider the VFA if they pass that,” Sotto said in a text message.

“It’s actually a big IF. If they pass a bill suspending security aid to us, then what will the VFA stand for?” he added.

Senator Panfilo Lacson pointed out that there might be legal issues if the US Congress legislates such measure as the VFA is still existing.

More than that, Lacson said that approving the said measure will disadvantage both the United States and the Philippines in relation to the persistent threat of terrorism.

“If adopted and approved, the said bill — H.R. 8313 — will not only be our loss but theirs as well, considering that a major part of the security assistance being extended to the Philippines is used to combat terrorism, which knows no borders and timing. And they know that for a fact,” Lacson said.

Nevertheless, the lawmaker explained that it is the right of any member of the US Congress to file any measure.

Wild suggestion
The Palace on Thursday expressed confidence that the United States would consider its close ties with the Philippines in deciding whether or not it would approve the “wild suggestion” of an American lawmaker to suspend Washington’s aid to the country’s security forces.

Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild introduced yesterday the Philippine Human Rights Act bill at the US Congress which seeks to block American security assistance to the Philippines until the government makes reforms to the military and police.

The proposed measure outlines a “serious basic criteria” that would have to be met in order to resume funding, including the investigation and prosecution of human rights violators among uniformed personnel.

Also among the conditions that should be met are the establishment of rights protection of trade unionists, journalists, human right defenders, indigenous persons, small-farmers, LGBTQ+ activists and government critics.

The bill also asks the government to guarantee a judicial system that is capable of investigating, prosecuting and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses.

AFP assurance
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday insisted it will never support or tolerate any form of abuse by military personnel, ensuring that all soldiers are trained to operate within the limits and bounds of the Constitution.

AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo issued the statement in reaction ng to H.R. 8313, or the Philippine Human Rights Act, filed before the US Congress by Wild where one issue being targeted is the alleged human rights violations committed by the military and police.

While the AFP does “not deal with policies and inclinations of foreign governments,” Arevalo said the accusation “is something vehemently denied” by the Philippine military.

“In many instances in the past, we have been empathic about human rights. The AFP has no record of abuses,” Arevalo said in his virtual presser.

He then challenged Wild and other American legislators to “bring their matters to prove their allegations” so that the AFP can conduct its investigation against soldiers who purportedly committed such dastardly acts.

“We will bring them before court martial. That is not allowed, that is not supported by the AFP,” stressed the AFP mouthpiece. “We ensure that all our soldiers are operating within limits and bounds of the Bill of Rights. “We say it is unfair to accuse the AFP of being a violator of human rights.”

ATL passage
Just like in the Philippine Congress, the measure filed in US Congress will go through different referrals and debates.

The filing of the measure was rooted in the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law which Wild claimed to be used in “ramping up efforts targeting labor organizers, workers and political opponents.”

In a speech at the US Congress, Wild, a Democrat lawmaker, claimed the “brutal” regime of President Rodrigo Duterte is using the pretext of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 to “ramp up efforts targeting labor organizers, workers and political opponents.”

In response to this, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque tagged the bill as “wild,” even as he noted that the Philippines would not interfere with the decision of the United States.

with Kristina Maralit
MJ Blancaflor
and Elmer Manuel

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New ASF cases may cause pork shortfall

Maria Romero

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The Philippines may possibly experience a shortfall on domestic pork production by year-end as new waves of African swine fever (ASF) outbreaks were recorded in six provinces.

In an online briefing on Thursday, Agriculture William Dar confirmed outbreaks in the provinces of Albay, Quirino, Laguna, Quezon, Batangas and Cavite on the main island of Luzon.

Citing its 11th report to the World Organization for Animal Health, Dar said 72 new outbreaks were recorded in the world’s 10th-largest pork consumer and seventh-biggest pork importer in the past two months amid limited movement of goods.

So far, the Philippines recorded an additional 33,406 culled hogs, bringing the total to 370,393 since the outbreak was first detected in August 2019.

There are 5,442 active ASF cases in the country, according to latest data.

Of the new outbreaks, Libmanan in Camarines Sur recorded the highest number of pigs culled with 3,024, followed by Sariaya in Quezon with 1,878 and Liliw in Laguna with 1,869.

Ilocos Sur is the latest province added to the list of ASF-hit areas. Sixty-seven pigs in backyard farms were culled in Tagudin.

To address supply gap, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is banking on government-funded restocking programs and additional importation of pork and pork-based products from disease-free countries.

According to Dar, the DA had released more than P700 million under its quick response fund to indemnify affected hog raisers.

It also set aside an initial P400 million to restock hogs and repopulate the swine industry.

The country’s hog production is seen dropping by 20 percent to 1.27 million metric tons this year as the deadly ASF continues to threaten the P260 billion swine industry.

In its latest report, the United States Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Services revised its initial forecast of 15 percent decline as the strict virus lockdown upends movements of goods.

Based on third-quarter data, there is also a projected decline of around 20 to 30 percent in total numbers and a significant drop in sows, indicating that the supply problem may persist until next year despite some hog producers reporting the start of repopulation efforts.

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Cayetano allies want it no other way

Michelle R. Guillang

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If they can have their way, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s supporters would rather not have President Rodrigo Duterte break the impasse the House leader himself had created by turning his back on his term-sharing agreement with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.

Unlike last year when Cayetano needed the President to defuse the three-way deadlock between him, Velasco and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, the Speaker is now trying to boost his chances at staying on his post through his House talking heads.

And they are all in agreement to keep the President out of the speakership issue.

It was Mr. Duterte, however, who made sure Cayetano would serve as Speaker first following their so-called 15-21 deal which Cayetano had branded as a “gentlemen’s agreement” which all three of them should abide by.

The agreement gave Cayetano 15 months which should end in October before Velasco sits as Speakers for 21 months until the 2022 elections. Romualdez, meanwhile, serves as Majority leader for the whole three-year term.

Cayetano, however, is reneging on that agreement and wants to serve the full three years as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Deputy speaker Boyet Gonzales II is among the latest of Cayetano’s allies to speak out his support to the Speaker, saying Cayetano’s broader political experience has been an advantage to the congressional performance over the last 14 months.

First in history
“So this is the only time in the history of the House that a Speaker was once upon a time, both a former Senator and a cabinet Secretary, and who has had a working relationship with the current crop of sitting senators and cabinet secretaries. This obviously has helped a lot in fast-tracking the legislative mill,” Gonzales said in a statement.

He also pointed to the pandemic as another reason why change in leadership must not take place anymore, contradictory to the 15-21 term-sharing.

“The current situation in our country and the entire world is very complicated. Even the system of working in the Congress has been affected,” he said.

“With Speaker Alan at the helm of the leadership in the House, I can say that we are on a steady course, it has already been tested, and we have nothing to fear,” he added.

Caloocan Rep. Egay Erice had also appealed for Velasco to yield “and give up his desire” to be the House leader of the 18th Congress.

Improper time
San Jose del Monte, Bulacan Rep. Rida Robes, meanwhile, said that now is an improper time to talk about change in House leadership as deliberations on the proposed 2021 budget should be the House’s priority.

“All talks about changing the leadership during this time when we are tackling a measure aimed at helping our countrymen recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are ill-timed,” Robes said in a statement on Thursday.

They are no longer calling on the President’s role in breaking the impasse, something which did not sit well with the other members of the House.

Cayetano is also being questioned by the House members over his lion’s share from the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) fund for 2021.

He is being allotted some P10 billion to finance projects in Taguig City, which has two congressional districts he shares with his wife Lani.

Cayetano’s closest allies are also getting more than the rest, documents show.

Buhay Partylist Representative Lito Atienza blasted Cayetano for not honoring the “gentlemen’s agreement.”

He said the Speaker must honor the term-sharing deal between him and Velasco.

“With no conditions,” he said.

His statement is in line with Malacañang’s position on the matter.

Honor vows
Presidential spokesman Secretary Harry Roque on Tuesday also said the Chief Executive had made known his desire for Cayetano and Velasco to honor their vows.

“Speaker Cayetano assumed the Speakership on the basis of the term-sharing agreement between him and Cong. Velasco. They agreed upon that arrangement as suggested by Cayetano himself. They agreed to this in front of no less than President Duterte himself, Atienza reiterated.

The former Manila mayor questioned Cayetano’s sudden about-face, with some other congressmen claiming it was unexpected of the Speaker who also did not have much support when he sought President Duterte’s help to broker between him and Velasco.

“Cayetano did not carry the majority numbers at that time, and Cong. Velasco did not ask for that to be a condition before he agreed to the agreement,” he said.

“Now that his term is about to end and Cong. Velasco is about to begin his, why is the Speaker’s supporters questioning if Cong. Velasco has the numbers? It is totally unfair to make it a condition now,” Atienza added.

Velasco was said to have the numbers when he gave way to Cayetano in respect to the President’s decision.

Atienza called on President Duterte to do for Velasco what he did for Cayetano last year.

Atienza’s plea
“Mr. President, please do not allow the breaking of this gentleman’s agreement to share terms. Otherwise, Congress is doomed to fail if palabra de honor (word of honor) and delicadeza (propriety) are not followed,” Atienza said.

Cayetano’s closest allies have confirmed the Taguig City congressman is seriously entertaining thoughts of running for the presidency in 2022. He lost his vice-presidential bid in 2016.

Velasco had kept his silence for long despite several taunts which came from Cayetano, himself.

It was not the first time that Cayetano had accused Velasco of trying to stage a coup. But in March this year, it was discovered that Cayetano had planned a “self-coup” by raising a supposed call by his peers to declare all House seats vacant in what appeared as his first attempt to undermine their agreement made before the President.

After the discovery of Cayetano’s reserved DPWH funds, he again raised the accusation against Velasco.

Velasco, however, denied Cayetano’s statements credibility.

“I have been silent during the duration of the Gentleman’s agreement in deference and respect to the sitting Speaker.”

“My silence does not mean I’m disinterested nor I have turned my back on the covenant.”

“’Being mum on issues’ means I just don’t want to call attention to myself. Being a party to the term-sharing agreement, one does not and should not seek to compete with the current Speaker as a gentleman’s agreement is in force. We will have our turn at the right time.”

“When both parties finally honor the agreement, I will show my colleagues the kind of leadership I espouse. Thereafter, at the end of my term, my peers can then be the judge of my loyal service to God, to the President and ultimately to the Filipino people.”

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Back WPS stance with action, says expert

Gabbie Parlade

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The national government’s stand on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) needs to be supported by consistent action as future developments continue, an expert in the maritime affairs said on Thursday.

Director Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea said that the public should remain vigilant in asserting the country’s claim.

“We have to always keep watch that we do remain consistent and that government officials do not make statements that undermine the victory in the arbitration,” he said in a television interview.

He said it is mostly advisable to do so especially with a known relation between Philippines and China that may now somewhat be affected by the recent pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte.

In his perspective, Duterte’s statement may cause an issue on the country’s credibility with China especially after years of being accommodating towards them.

This is why Batongbacal commended his speech at the United Nations General Assembly stating that it was a good start in forming a more unified stance against China along with other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which may share the same sentiments.

“This provides an opportunity for them to actually talk and come to a unified position on at least certain issues now like protecting the respective Exclusive Economic Zones,” he said.

Stronger response
Through this action, he said that it will form a stronger response against China which prompts a weaker chance at dividing the nations.

“China will not be able to keep resorting to its divide and conquer tactics and compelling the ASEAN states to just deal with it on a bilateral basis now without any coordination with the Southeast Asian countries, not even coordinating their positions, which weakens their bargaining hand,” he stressed.

He said that there had been a number of instances where the Philippines could’ve asserted their claim such as in the reported damages in marine life from past years that robbed many of their source of livelihood.

But the marine affairs expert said that with Duterte’s speech being announced at an international assembly gives hope, provided that assertions in following months will be pushed through.

A few of the factors that he noted which prompted for a sudden change in the President’s stand on the matter were possibly due to national security reasons.

Batongbacal cited that China’s aggressive claim over the disputed sea as seen in other ASEAN member states and in the Philippines as well were likewise one of the main elements which caused the temporary abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

On Wednesday, the president’s statement in the assembly was also welcomed by other top officials in the country who have also been pushing for the government to assert the Philippines’ won territory.

Set aside anew
But hardly had the hosannas been heaped, Malacañang said it would “set aside” the 2016 arbitral ruling for the meantime.

In his briefing Thursday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines would instead continue its trade and investments with China, since it appears that the sea row’s resolution might not be possible “in our lifetime.”

“The President has been consistent — we will move on matters that we could move forward on including trade and investments,” Roque said.

“We will, for the time being, set this aside because I don’t think the resolution of the territorial dispute is forthcoming in our lifetime,” he added.

Roque even refused to call the President’s latest statements as “strong,” saying the latter merely reiterated existing government policies before the 193-member United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

“It’s a restatement of what has been the Philippine policy on China that we cannot neglect our win at the Hague,” Roque said.

Meanwhile, Roque told former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario that he should not dictate President Duterte’s next move to address the maritime dispute.

Roque said this after Del Rosario urged the government to take the “next step” of “putting into reality” the President’s invocation of the 2016 arbitral ruling before the UN.

Roque even questioned the former diplomat’s “special qualifications” to tell the President what he should do, saying that it was under his leadership at the Department of Foreign Affairs when the country lost control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012 during a standoff between Philippine and Chinese forces.

with MJ BLANCAFLOR

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AFP, Facebook partner against terror

Kristina Maralit

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and social media giant Facebook tackled the possibility of partnering together to strengthen the government’s counterterrorism and anti-insurgency and efforts, particularly against those exploiting the Internet to advance their cause.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gilbert Gapay held a virtual meeting with Facebook Philippines’ Head of Public Policy, Clare Amador, last Wednesday, 23 September, to discuss ways both parties can work together to make cyberspace a safer haven for Filipino netizens.

Amador discussed global efforts being exerted by Facebook, a member of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), to fight terrorism propagated online and how it is dealing with harmful content on its platform.

Established in 2017, GIFCT is a consortium of companies dedicated to disrupting terrorist abuse of members’ digital platforms.

“We laud and express gratitude to the members of the GIFCT, including Facebook, for stepping up in its self-regulation initiatives that targets the dissemination of extremist propaganda, including photos and videos of terrorist violence. We likewise in the security sector shall extend any assistance as needed and our lines of cooperation shall always be open,” Gapay said.

To recall, Gapay, upon his assumption as military chief, hinted in suggesting having a more stringent monitoring of suspected terrorists’ social media account in the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Anti-Terrorism Law.

Gapay pointed to many documented cases wherein social media was used by terror groups to sow violence, among them the Daesh’s reign of terror in the Middle East and the country’s own experience in fighting the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group in the 2017 Marawi City siege.

Social networks, Gapay said, were used as conduits in spreading violent extremism and terrorist propaganda.

The use of private messaging apps also continues as a means for terrorists to initiate communication with unsuspecting netizens followed by personally mediated and face-to-face meetings which end up in their recruitment and eventual radicalization.

“We seek an open and above-board partnership with social networking sites to prevent and counter the spread of violent extremism, without curtailing the rights of users to free expression and information,” noted Gapay.

CID explanation sought
Relatedly, the AFP also asked Facebook to enlighten it regarding its process of taking down accounts because of Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CID).

This, after the social media company earlier deleted Facebook and Instagram accounts with alleged links to the military and Philippine National Police (PNP) over their supposed violations of the platforms’ community standards.

Among the pages taken down is Hands Off Our Children, a Facebook account started by parents of minors either missing or supposedly had been recruited and brainwashed by the Reds to join their movement.

“Hands Off Our Children actually reached out to the AFP, it is an advocacy that the AFP shares and advances,” AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo told reporters in a separate virtual press briefing yesterday, as he also vouched for the legitimacy of the group members’ grievances.

Gapay, he noted, had asked Facebook Philippines if it can restore the deleted page and accounts of other “advocacy groups” against child exploitation and trafficking of minors and terrorism and violent extremism.

“Gen. Gapay also suggested for Facebook to revisit its policies regarding CID particularly in the taking down of accounts since they said they weren’t really looking into the kinds of content posted. The coordinated inappropriate behavior was not thoroughly discussed by Facebook with the AFP. Both sides agreed to possible meet again and talk about it more,” stated Arevalo.

The military’s mouthpiece then assured that the AFP “will never subscribe to fakery” and to “never tolerate fake accounts,” as these go against the organization’s policies on social media use.

“Any violations of military personnel or units regarding the AFP’s social media policies will be meted with the appropriate punishment,” Arevalo stressed.

Meanwhile, National Privacy Commission (NPC) chief Raymund Liboro said they will launch a deeper probe on Facebook’s preventive actions regarding the proliferation of suspicious accounts on the platform.

Liboro noted that the NPC already sent a letter of invitation to Facebook to shed more light into the matter.

“Now, we call again for Facebook’s compliance with laws, rules, and regulations under our jurisdiction. This ensures that responsible social media platforms shall elevate their community standards to a level that adequately protects the data privacy rights of Filipino data subjects and rights to free speech and expression,” the NPC commissioner said in a statement.

“It is incumbent on us at the National Privacy Commission to step up our action especially on platforms, like Facebook that is considered as one of the biggest holders and processors of personal data,” he concluded.

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OCTA on relaxing restrictions: Not so fast

Gabbie Parlade

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An expert from the OCTA Research Team on Thursday has advised the government not to ease restrictions yet and wait a little longer following current better responses to COVID-19.

University of the Philippines (UP) professor Dr. Guido David said that it is important to ensure first that the downtrend statistics on the country’s response continues before imposing more relaxed protocols.

He said that based on the trend, the Philippines may be close to regulating the cases which is why they are lobbying to let responses stabilize otherwise previous gains in the system may be lost.

“I think we are close. We might be close. Pero as of 1 October, we are maybe suggesting to hold-off the relaxing of protocols. But I think we are starting to really become okay in NCR (National Capital Region),” he said in an interview with TV5.

David said it is recommended for the government to set deadlines on when measures will be loosed to help even local communities to align their responses to the national plan.

He explained that regions outside Metro Manila should also be monitored by the government especially as adjacent areas like CALABARZON and Bulacan may cause cases to again rise.

Based on the current statistics, he said that at present the national positivity rate has gone down consistently below nine percent while hospital occupancies have been decongested over the past weeks.

“We’re headed in the right direction but CALABARZON is not yet in a good condition, there’s still the danger that we (NCR) may be affected by Bulacan and CALABARZON,” he said.

If all operations go as planned, David said that probably by the end of this year a majority of the regions in the country may be put in modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).

“Let’s endure for a little while because we’re approaching October and then the next month will already be November and we don’t want to have a surge by then but if by October we continue (to improve) then maybe we can implement MGCQ by November or December,” he added.

Meanwhile, David said that he is in favor of opening some tourism industries provided that all guidelines are strictly enforced and followed by the public.

He said what it’s important is to point out where viral transmission may be possible and for the government to align protocols that avoid those instances such as overcrowding and having adequate ventilation in open spaces.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health said that the IATF will be considering all recommendations, scientific basis and other sectors like economical status in formulating their decision.

On the other hand, Metro Manila mayors are set to discuss the matter by Sunday on what level of community quarantine will be imposed while also highlighting the need to continue observing minimum health standards.

As announced, the initially implemented GCQ status in NCR is set to end by 30 September.

At present, the total COVID-19 cases have reached more than 294,000 with over 231,000 recoveries and a death toll of around 5,000.

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Bye, Kapamilya: Maja Salvador asks for understanding

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MAJA Salvador moves to another network after 17 years in ABS-CBN. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF IG/IAMMAJASALVADOR

Another ABS-CBN talent has left the Kapamilya network and she happens to be one of its biggest stars.

Maja Salvador, who started her acting career at ABS-CBN in 2003, asked her fans not to be surprised that she’s moving to another network in the wake of Congress’ decision not to renew the Kapamilya network’s franchise to operate.

“Sana ’wag po kayo magulat kung makikita niyo akong lumabas sa ibang network at patuloy makapagbigay ligaya sa inyo kahit sa anong paraan at plataporma” (I hope you won’t be surprised when you see me appear in other network, [to] continue giving you joy in any way and [whatever] platform),” Maja wrote on her Instagram page last 22 September.

She started her post by mentioning that she will be joining “Mr. M” — Johnny Manahan, head of ABS-CBN’s Star Magic pool of talents where she’s signed to — in her move to another network.

Maja did not specifically mention the network, even as ABS-CBN News reported that Manahan is set to direct a new Sunday noontime show on TV5 starring another Kapamilya star, Piolo Pascual and Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray.

Maja, who is also known for her singing and dancing skills, will most probably join the new TV5 show.

Despite leaving ABS-CBN, however, Maja’s remains under contract with Star Magic.

Another new TV5 show that will feature ABS-CBN talents is is Laugh Out Loud which will be hosted by Billy Crawford, Alex Gonzaga, Wacky Kiray and K Brosas.

MAJA recently celebrated hitting 1M subscribers on YouTube.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF IG/IAMMAJASALVADOR

Online presence not enough
Maja recently gained one million subscribers on her YouTube channel. She celebrated the milestone with family and friends over simple street food.

Notwithstanding her huge online presence, Maja’s move to another network indicated that celebrities still value exposure on free TV due to financial considerations.

In 2014, Maja joined the cast of the prime time television series, The Legal Wife, co-starring Angel Locsin, Jericho Rosales and JC de Vera. Her performance as a mistress drew raves and a Best Drama Actress nomination.

Her last apperance in an ABS-CBN series was in The Killer Bride in 2019.

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Bonanza bottles

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Secondhand clothes in an ukay-ukay store come dirt cheap. Used shirts can go for just P50 each. Perhaps the only time used garments may sell for a fortune is if they belonged to a celebrity.

The late Hollywood femme fatale Marilyn Monroe’s iconic white halter dress, which she wore in her movie The Seven Year Itch, was bought for a whopping $4.6 million in an auction in 2011. In the movie, the skirt was blown up as Monroe stood over a subway grate, causing her to giggle as she held it down, in a memorable scene that made her a certified sex symbol of the 1950s and partly the reason that jacked up its value.

There are other personal belongings that later became precious after being used or owned by a celebrity. The underwear of Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother, is worth at least $16,300.

The chair that author J.K. Rowling sat in as she wrote her first two Harry Potter books was bought for $394,000 in 2016. Another item warmed by a celebrity’s butt, John Lennon’s porcelain-toilet-turned-flower-pot, was bought by a Beatles fan for $15,000.

In Bohol, a poor farmer recently became P11,000 richer after selling three broken beer bottles for that amount.

Empty beer bottles usually sell for only one to five pesos each. But the price can go up to as much as P36,000 each if they become collector’s items. The ones sold by the farmer were vintage bottles of Halili Beer, a popular alcohol made in 1950.

Halili beers were manufactured by the brewery of former Bulacan governor Fortunato Halili. His grandson, Fortunato Halili III, said finding a bottle of that beer is hard.

An antique collector, citing an urban legend, said competitors sabotaged the brand by breaking its glass containers which at the time had a limited supply. Without glass bottles, the beer could not be sold. Halili III recalled that his grandfather was eventually forced to sell his beer business.

According to the collector, a broken bottle of Halili Beer with a clear label can fetch P2,500 today. An unbroken empty bottle can sell for P15,000 to P20,000 apiece, while mint condition ones can go as high as P30,000 to P36,000.

The farmer continues to look for those vintage bottles in a cave where he earlier found the broken ones, hoping to cash in on them once more.

As to how a cave came to harbor old beer bottles, past farmers apparently used them as gas lamps to light up the place where they gathered bat waste or guano for use as fertilizer.

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‘Why can’t Alan honor deal?’

Being mum on issues means I just don’t want to call attention to myself. Being a party to the term-sharing agreement, one does not and should not seek to compete with the current Speaker as a gentleman’s agreement is in force. We will have our turn at the right time

Aldrin Cardona

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A senior party-list representative on Wednesday called on President Rodrigo Duterte to break yet another deadlock in the term-sharing agreement for the House leadership which Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano no longer wants to honor.

Yesterday’s session became a parade of Cayetano’s leaders expressing their continued support to the Speaker, a show of force that started since Monday when Cayetano claimed a coup should have transpired.

Cayetano accused his rival Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as having orchestrated the coup de etat — the fourth in his count, an accusation belied no less by his own peers at the House.

Buhay Partylist Representative Lito Atienza strongly reminded Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to honor the term-sharing agreement between him and Velasco, instead.

“With no conditions,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Secretary Harry Roque on Tuesday also said the Chief Executive had made known his desire for Cayetano and Velasco to honor their agreement.

Cayetano, however, does not have any intention to do so, or so some congressmen said.

“Speaker Cayetano assumed the Speakership on the basis of the term-sharing agreement between him and Cong. Velasco. They agreed upon that arrangement as suggested by Cayetano himself.

They agreed to this in front of no less than President Duterte himself,” Atienza reiterated.

The former Manila mayor questioned Cayetano’s sudden about-face, with some other congressmen claiming it was unexpected of the Speaker who also did not have much support when he sought President Duterte’s help to broker between him and Velasco. The third speakership hopeful then was Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez.

Romualdez settled for the House Majority Leader’s post which he will hold for three years.

“Cayetano did not carry the majority numbers at that time, and Cong. Velasco did not ask for that to be a condition before he agreed to the agreement,” he said.

“Now that his term is about to end and Cong. Velasco is about to begin his, why is the Speaker’s supporters questioning if Cong. Velasco has the numbers? It is totally unfair to make it a condition now,” Atienza added.

Velasco was said to have the numbers when he gave way to Cayetano in respect to the President’s decision.

Atienza pointed out that the President’s intervention is needed now.

“Mr. President, please do not allow the breaking of this gentleman’s agreement to share terms. Otherwise, Congress is doomed to fail if palabra de honor (word of honor) and delicadeza (propriety) are not followed,” Atienza added.

The Chief Executive defused the three-way speakership war last year and allowed Cayetano, his former Foreign Affairs secretary, to sit as house Speaker for 15 months. He is to end his part of the deal on the last day of October.

Velasco will then take his turn to serve as House Speaker for 21 months until the 2022 elections.

Cayetano’s closest allies have confirmed the Taguig City congressman is seriously entertaining thoughts of running for the presidency in 2022. He lost his vice-presidential bid in 2016.

Aside from various statements from his leaders since Monday, Cayetano’s supporters manifested their support to him on the floor on Wednesday.

One of them, Caloocan Rep. Egay Erice even asked Velasco to give up his “aspiration” to serve as speaker.

“It can wait. He is young, brilliant and only in his second term,” Erice said.

Several other known Cayetano allies followed suit with the same call.

Velasco had kept his silence for long despite several taunts which came from Cayetano, himself.

It was not the first time that Cayetano had accused Velasco of trying to stage a coup.

But in March this year, it was discovered that Cayetano had planned a “self-coup” by raising a supposed call by his peers to declare all House seats vacant in what appeared as his first attempt to undermine their agreement made before the President.

It did not fly, though.

Several lawmakers last week questioned Cayetano’s large share from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) budget for 2021, some of which have been red-flagged by the Senate.

Cayetano’s Taguig City, with only two congressional districts but with the other occupied by his wife Lani, has 121 projects listed. It will receive nearly P10 billion from the DPWH fund.
His other allies will also receive more than the others.

Many congressmen were allocated with only P2 billion for their projects or even less.

After the discovery of Cayetano’s reserved DPWH funds, he again raised the accusation against Velasco. His supporters then issued statements of support to him one after another.

Velasco, however, remained cool despite these.

In a statement, Velasco said:

“I have been silent during the duration of the Gentleman’s agreement in deference and respect to the sitting Speaker.”

“My silence does not mean I’m disinterested nor I have turned my back on the covenant.”

“’Being mum on issues’ means I just don’t want to call attention to myself. Being a party to the term-sharing agreement, one does not and should not seek to compete with the current Speaker as a gentleman’s agreement is in force. We will have our turn at the right time.”

“When both parties finally honor the agreement, I will show my colleagues the kind of leadership I espouse. Thereafter, at the end of my term, my peers can then be the judge of my loyal service to God, to the President, and ultimately to the Filipino people.”

with Michelle Guillang
@tribunephl_mish

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